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Judicial Watch, Inc. v. DOJ, No. 17-0916, 2019 WL 3859002 (D.D.C. Aug. 16, 2019) (Cooper, J.)


Judicial Watch, Inc. v. DOJ, No. 17-0916, 2019 WL 3859002 (D.D.C. Aug. 16, 2019) (Cooper, J.)

Re:  Request for records concerning FBI's relationship with former British intelligence operative Christopher Steele

Disposition:  Denying defendant's motion for summary judgment; granting plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment

  • Exemptions 6 & 7(C):  "[T]he Court will order the FBI to conduct a search for records post-dating Steele's service as a confidential source."  The court relates that "[plaintiff] contends that the FBI conducted an insufficient search because it failed to capture records post-November 2016, after Steele was no longer serving as a confidential source."  "The Bureau responds that, whatever records it may have regarding Steele after his service as a confidential source ended, those records would be protected from disclosure by Exemptions 6 and 7(C)."  Regarding the potential public interest, the court finds that "[c]ommunications post-dating Steele's time as an informant might reveal a great deal about why the FBI developed him as a CHS, his performance as a CHS, and why the FBI opted to terminate its relationship with him."  "Those records might either bolster or weaken Steele's credibility as a source."  "That information, in turn, could provide a basis on which to evaluate the FBI's performance of its law-enforcement duties, including its judgment in selecting and relying on confidential sources, especially in connection with such a politically sensitive subject."  "Does that legitimate public interest outweigh Steele's privacy interest?"  "Given the unique circumstances presented by this case, the answer may well be yes."  "As an initial matter, the Court notes that Steele is not presently unknown to the world – or anywhere close to it."  "He has already been thrust into the spotlight because of his relationship with the FBI."  "It is hard for the Court to imagine that the disclosure of any communications between him and the FBI post-dating his time as a CHS – assuming such records exist – would occasion much greater public scrutiny than he has already endured."  "For that reason, Steele's privacy interests are far different from those courts usually consider under Exemption 7(C), where disclosure would make public for the first time an individual's affiliation with law enforcement, whether as agent, cooperator, or target."  "The balance therefore tilts in favor of disclosure."
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Exemption 6
Exemption 7(C)
Updated January 7, 2022